Dr. Aziza Zemrani is bringing international attention to The University of Texas-Pan American and a transformative cultural awareness and understanding to her students whom she prepares to be the next generation of policy makers and leaders.
"The visits to Morocco have put Pan Am on the map in Africa," said Zemrani, who touts the program, now in its fourth year, as a win-win situation for both countries. "Knowledge is gained on both sides. We are changing the perception of the American there and our students are getting a better understanding of another culture by networking and developing relationships."
This year as national president of the Conference of Minority Public Administrators (COMPA), a section of the American Society of Public Administration (ASPA), Zemrani will again put the University on an international stage.
Under her leadership, COMPA chose McAllen as the site of its 41st Annual Conference Feb. 22-26. Hosted by UT Pan American, more than 200 academics, practitioners and students from around the world are scheduled to attend.
"It's the first time it will be held at a Hispanic Serving Institution," said Zemrani, who during her year as COMPA's leader has tried to increase the diversity and the number of members in the organization.
With a theme of "Beyond Diversity: Bridging Cultural Barriers through Excellence in Public Service Delivery," the conference will feature distinguished keynote speakers and panelists from government, higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, and other arenas as well as presentations by UTPA Master of Public Administration (MPA) students. Conference topics range from the public administration profession in the 21st century to social equity and cultural diversity from the U.S. and international perspectives. U.S. Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15) will head a Congressional Forum. COMPA's past president and president-elect will be attending as well as Dr. James Lorens, chancellor of Louisiana's five-campus Southern University System, the only Historically Black University system in the United States.
MPA Program Director Dr. William Turk said Zemrani's involvement with COMPA has brought an awareness of the Hispanic minority to the fore in the organization.
"She, almost single-handily, raised the consciousness of officers and members to the need to recognize the significant Hispanic minority professionals in the field," Turk said.
Zemrani, who came to UT Pan American in 2007, began her interest in public administration early on.
Through USAID sponsorship, she was able to earn her MPA degree in the United States from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. She later earned a Ph.D. in public policy from the Nelson Mandela School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.
Zemrani, whose research interests are wide-ranging but primarily focus on public budgeting and finance, has collaborated on a number of research projects for the state of Louisiana addressing local issues of child welfare and welfare reform as well as higher education funding and efficiency. She's also worked as a research associate on African-American policy issues including health care and policing.
She says training in many skills is necessary to be an effective public administrator including management, public service values, ethics, critical thinking, analysis, research methods and statistics.
"Public administrators are the ones who are in the forefront of social policy and they have to know what steps need to be taken. I want students to be knowledgeable in how to analyze, read and integrate the numbers. You need to know what is the problem and how to address it," Zemrani said.
At UTPA she has worked to increase the number of students in the MPA program and their involvement in COMPA, even helping students create community fundraising events to enable them to attend conferences in the United States and one held last June in Morocco.
"She has encouraged them to present papers, participate in workshops, generally inspiring their regular participation and contribution to this organization. Her efforts have been invaluable in advancing the professionalism of our students and alumni," Turk said.
"I found that Dr. Zemrani brought much more into the classroom beyond a practitioner's point of view - she also offered a world view perspective," he said. "I am more aware of my surroundings and have developed a deeper understanding of the importance of cultural competency."
Cultural competency, a focus of the upcoming COMPA conference, will be necessary for anyone to thrive in a global society, said Zemrani, who has undergone professional training to enable her to assess cultural competency in her students and colleagues. She said it is also one of the standards required of MPA programs for accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, which UTPA's MPA program is striving to obtain.
"We don't just talk about diversity now, we talk about cultural competency. It encompasses a multi-dimensional concept - you can call it diversity, ethnicity, race, and gender, even sexual orientation," Zemrani said. "Because of the changing population cultural competency is going to become even more important. We need to train and educate students about it."